Hey friends! My husband Kyle is almost done with his 3rd year of medical school at the UIW School of Medicine, and I realized just how remiss I’ve been in sharing our medical school journey with others. Unless you’re actively going through the medical training process or have been through it recently, you probably know very little about what it’s actually like to experience. So I’ve decided to share more of our experiences and things we’ve learned to help others learn more about this process and feel less alone during their own medical school journey. So in this first post in what will hopefully be a long series of medical training posts, I’m sharing five tips for the medical school spouse!
Find a Support Group
Many people know that medical school is incredibly challenging for any medical student. But most people don’t recognize that the student’s spouse struggles just as much (if not more) throughout the med school journey. So one of my biggest tips for the medical school spouse is to find a support group of people who DO get it. Many of us have to move away from our homes and families for our spouse to attend medical school. Most of us don’t know a single soul in the city (or even state!) that we move to. Trust me when I say you can not survive medical school without some kind of a support group to help see you through it!
The medical community is incredibly tight knit and there are many options for medical spouse support groups. Kyle’s school had a family orientation day before his first day of class, and at the presentation they mentioned two support groups offered in conjunction with the school: Student Advocates Association (SAA) and Side by Side (through the Christian Medical and Dental Association). I went to meetings for both and decided that the Side by Side group was more my speed. And let me tell you, these ladies have been SUCH a huge blessing to me! We meet weekly for a bible study and just to talk and support each other and just be friends! We’ve put on baby showers, Friendsgivings, white elephant parties, and so many other fun things to support and love on each other.
Non-Medical Support Groups
The support group you find doesn’t have to be medical in nature if you don’t want it to be! I’ve found a lot of fellowship and support in my church group as well! People affectionately call San Antonio “Military City USA” because the majority of people here either belong to the military or did at one point. So most people here know the importance of community and supporting each other because most don’t have family nearby! It’s been such an incredible thing to be part of and such a blessing to both Kyle and I!
Don’t Wait Around for Your Spouse
My next tip for the medical school spouse is to set your own schedule. Do your own thing! Your spouse is going to literally spend 12 hours a day (if not more) going to class, studying, etc. And if they’re not, you should encourage them to.
Trust me when I say there is nothing more disappointing and depressing than just sitting around waiting for your spouse to be ready to spend time with you. You’re going to be resentful, they’re going to feel extra stressed and guilty, and neither of you will be happy! So do your own thing! Explore your new city on your own. Go out to lunch with new friends. Plan movie or game nights with other med school spouses (they’re just as bored and lonely as you are!). Buy plane tickets to go back and visit your family on your own.
Learning to be Independent
This was so so SO hard for me when we first started medical school because I do NOT like to do things on my own. I feel lonely really easily and I don’t like going out on my own. And Kyle’s my best friend! I wanted to go on adventures and explore our new city and state with HIM, but he never had enough time to come with me. I got so frustrated and BORED just sitting there waiting for him to be able to visit the Alamo with me, walk the Riverwalk with me, explore the bat caverns with me.
So eventually I just had to force myself to get in the car and go SOME where by myself. And it helped! I started with small little things on my own like taking our dog to a new park by myself and then moved onto bigger things like flying home for a week to spend time with my family. And I was so much happier because of it! And so was Kyle, because he didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving me alone all the time anymore. So do your own thing! Make plans! And if your spouse can join in after all, even better 🙂
Anyone else an extremely organized, Type A person who loves to plan everything out? I know I am! But medical school requires a certain amount of flexibility from both the medical student and their loved ones. So my next tip for the medical school spouse is to be willing to adapt and be flexible.
Kyle was a really great student in undergrad, but medical school is a whole other beast. Our first year of medical school saw many different study schedules, priorities, and versions of daily life. It took Kyle a while to figure out what worked for him and what he personally needed to succeed in school. Which meant I had to be flexible enough to change my mental picture and give him the ability to experiment.
I can’t even count the amount of times Kyle came out of his office and said “Okay so I think I need to change how I’m doing this”. And those conversations were always followed by a significant change to my daily life and expectations. But he needed that. He already felt guilty enough for needing to take all of the time he was using for school. He didn’t need me complaining about all the changes. If that’s what he needed, then that’s what he needed! And I was going to support him in it. Even if it was really difficult sometimes.
Flexibility in Clerkship
And once Kyle started clerkship rotations (usually third and fourth year of med school) I had to be even more flexible. Because now every 6 weeks he starts a new clerkship with a new doctor in a new specialty with a new schedule. And even that schedule isn’t always consistent. And I once again needed to support, not complain. It’s not like Kyle was purposely spending extra time at the hospital just to spite me! Of course I knew he’d rather be with me than filling out patient charts!
Communicate with Your Spouse
This might be the most important of my tips for the medical school spouse. COMMUNICATE!!! If you need something, say something! If they need something, they need to tell you! Create a safe space where you can both bring up hard or important conversations. Developing a habit of consistent and intentional communication with your spouse sets the stage for a successful and enjoyable four years during medical school!
You’re More Important than Medical School
YOU are more important than medical school will EVER be. And you need to feel that way. If for any reason you aren’t receiving that validation, it is one hundred percent okay to ask your spouse for it. It might be as simple as making sure your love love language is being met. Maybe your spouse needs to alter their schedule slightly. Whatever needs to happen, you have the right to ask for it. Just as they have the right to ask for something if they need it!
I remember one night during the first year of med school that I was REALLY struggling with being so far from family, I hadn’t made many friends yet, and Kyle was incredibly busy and stressed. I broke down crying in Kyle’s arms and just poured out my heart to him. After I finished blubbering to him, he looked me straight in the eyes and said “Do you need me to quit? Because I will. If that’s truly what we need,” He genuinely asked me if I needed him to quit medical school! And part of me wanted to shout YES!!! But I knew he was supposed to be doing medical school. We made some adjustments to his schedule and my own priorities, which helped immensely. But just knowing that he was willing to leave school because I was more important to him was a huge for me.
Find Joy in the Moment!
I changed my mind, of all of my tips for the medical school spouse, this one is the most important! Y’all might not have a surplus of moments together as a couple in medical school, but the ones you do have are that much sweeter because of it! Or they can be as long as you have a good attitude and positive perspective. So take advantage of all the time you DO have together! Kyle would get two days off after each unit during the first two years of med school (so basically a four day weekend). So I always planned something big for us to do! We took short trips to fun places around San Antonio (the Gulf of Mexico is only 2 hours away) and made the most of every moment!
We also guarded our time together religiously. If we knew Kyle was going to have time off, we didn’t schedule family to come to town that weekend. We planned fun adventures for the TWO of us. Every couple needs different things, but Kyle and I knew that we personally needed to prioritize activities for just the two of us, not with giant groups of friends.
Hopefully these 5 tips for the medical school spouse help you to either feel more confident in or less alone in your own medical school journey! Like I said before, I’m determined to shar more of our experiences and things we’ve learned to hopefully help others in their own journey. What other tips do you have for medical school wives? Tell me in the comments!
5 Tips for the Medical School Spouse
February 23, 2021